In recent news, we’ve heard of a young Iranian pastor by the name of Yousef Nadarkhani who is currently awaiting the fulfillment of a death sentence for apostasy, or the denouncing of his Muslim faith. The Iranian government has asked Nadarkhani to renounce his Christian beliefs to spare his life. He’s refused.
There have been a number of appeals and news articles written about this man’s plight, that only as of recently, had I heard of. I’ve read about people being martyred for Christ, losing their lives because they so desperately wanted to believe in Him. I’ve done hours of research about the countless people who are jailed for months at a time for professing the name of Jesus Christ. In countries all over the world, people die to follow the commandments of Jesus Christ. In America, however, we’ve taken a lackadaisical approach to Christianity, that in the greatest of situations, we have backed down from our beliefs as to not trouble the waters of our non-believing neighbors.
This got me to thinking: what does it really mean to say you believe in Christ? What is it that we’re presenting to the world when we profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior? It’s much more than a notion and worth examining closely so we are reminded of what we are giving our lives up for, literally and figuratively.
As a believer, God requires us to do a number of things. The list can be long and exhausting. When you consider the things Jesus charged us to do, it can even seem overwhelming. I’ve found, however, that doing only two things makes following all the myriad of commandments much easier to do. The first is the one action Jesus said that all the other laws/commandments rest on: loving one another. [See Galatians 5:14]
The second is the figurative “death” we all must encounter in order to successfully follow Christ.
Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. — Matthew 10:39
The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. — John 12:25
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me.” — Matthew 16:24
You have to be conscious, awake, and very intentional in your beliefs to not only follow but act on the aforementioned standards. For too long we’ve been asleep, allowing the world to dictate to us what Christ-like living should be. We’ve shied away from standing for what we believe in, being uncompromisable like many believers across the world have. We’ve allowed the freedoms and luxuries of this land make Christians forget the power and persecution that comes with standing for Christ.
Then you will be arrested, persecuted, and killed. You will be hated all over the world because you are my followers. — Matthew 24:9
All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved. — Matthew 10:22
If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. — John 15:18
So what has Nadarkhani and the thousands of others like him who sit in jails or have been killed for their belief in Christ ultimately done? They’ve become living examples of what Jesus said would happen to those who do not shy away from their beliefs in this day and the days to come.
I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. — Matthew 10:16-20
Many will read this blog post and say “that’s doing too much. Implying that I should be prepared to die for my beliefs is a bit radical, extra, and over the top. I can focus on loving folks and trying to do right. All that extra stuff… for the birds. I’ll die for my mama or my kids, but for a belief, nah. I’m good.” If that’s your sentiment, it’s absolutely your prerogative. But much like the gospel we’ve been taught to follow, this too is a part of that message. There’s no way around it.
Muslims of all varieties will go to great lengths to tell people about Allah. Jehovah Witnesses will bear heat and rain to go door-to-door to proclaim their beliefs. Nation of Islam members sell bean pies, newspapers, anything they can to tell their versions of “the truth”. You won’t tell a Buddhist that he or she can’t find enlightenment through Buddha. You can never go to a Hindu nation and get them to disrespect a cow or any of their gods. You’d never go into another nation with any religion other than Christianity as its core belief and tell them they can’t pray to their God in their schools, public buildings, or challenge their beliefs because of what is socially popular. They take their belief seriously, it is ingrained in everything they do.
But in America, we’ve let the laws of our land govern how committed we are to Christ versus the other way around. When I worked as an educator, I ministered to Christ to students inside my classroom. A kid once asked me what the meaning of Easter was during class. Once I answered questions about the Easter Bunny, chocolate, and pastel colored eggs, soon a kid wanted to know where Jesus fit into the picture.
Now, separation of church and state says that I should in no way engage students in that conversation during school hours. But in that moment, an opportunity presented itself to share with them the richness of what I coined “Resurrection Sunday” and why it was important. Not a kid protested. Not a one challenged what I said. They were hungry to learn about God and when class was over, several kids wanted to learn even more about Jesus. I gave them the scriptures they needed and told them if they ever had questions, I was there to help answer them.
There was a child in another class who proclaimed to be an Atheist. His classmates, many of whom had transferred from private schools, were believers and spent their free time talking about church service and getting together in their small groups for bible study. I remember one day I told the young Atheist that God has something very special in mind for him; he was über talented, smart, and while considered a pip-squeak by his classmates, had a great future ahead of him. I challenged his friends to invite him to small group that week and see what would happen. The following Monday, young Atheist enthusiastically told the class “Man, I went to church with James* and it was awesome! I love Jesus now!” The class broke out into a roaring applause. The kids exclaimed, “we told you you’d like Jesus!” A girl yelled, “Ms. Gordon, we’re so glad you let us talk about God in here. Teachers never let us! This is why we should! He’s saved!”
In another nation, I would have been killed. In America, while the punishment wouldn’t been as severe, had someone told on me, I definitely would have lost my job.
I truly believe that God covered me in those moments to share His gospel with no reproof. I never was reported to administration nor had any parent contacted me about their discontentment with my religious conversations with their kid. Those were probably my most radical moments in my faith and I’m looking forward to having more. We have to begin taking advantage of opportunities to minister to people when they present themselves and not hide behind the fear of persecution. God will always provide an opportunity for His word to go forth, even in places that are deemed inappropriate.
Radically Chasing God,